Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.
I’m now sharing from a brand-new project, an alternative history with the working title A Dream of Peacocks. It starts on May Day 1274, when Dante met his great love and muse Beatrice Portinari. Though he never said whether or not they actually exchanged words or if they just saw one another, they become immediate friends in my story, and meet while Beatrice is making flower garlands. She offered to show him the garden afterwards.
“May I help you? As it says in Ecclesiastes, ‘Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion.’”
Beatrice smiled, which made her appear even more angelic and otherworldly beautiful. “You’re very kind and thoughtful. Have you ever braided flowers before?”
“No, but I’ll let you teach me.”
As dearly as I wished to keep my gaze fixed upon her face, I was compelled to shift my attention to her hands as she demonstrated three difference processes of creating a floral chain. When she concluded her tutorial, she placed a crown of white irises, that lovely symbol of our ancient city, upon my head. In return, I set a crown of violets around her hair.
The ten lines end here. A few more to complete the scene follow.
Then it was necessary once more to turn my eyes back to the flowers. The more swiftly we finished this task, the sooner we could walk in the garden, perhaps alone.
What if one of the most famous love stories in history wasn’t unrequited?
When Dante Alighieri and Beatrice Portinari meet as children on May Day 1274, they’re instantly drawn to one another with a strong, precocious love. Their dreams of marriage come to an abrupt end when their fathers arrange their betrothals to other people, but an unexpected second chance comes when they’re both widowed in their early twenties.
This happy life is torn asunder when Black Guelphs violently seize control of Firenze. While Dante is getting his three daughters into a flight-ready carriage, his little sister Gaetana runs into the courtyard and says her newlywed husband was just murdered. By the time Dante goes back into the house, Beatrice and their youngest child Brunetto have mysteriously disappeared, and the increasing danger makes it impossible to search for them.
Dante receives a letter stating his pregnant wife and only son will be held as hostages unless he buys their freedom with an exorbitant ransom. The Black Guelphs also demand he return to Firenze to be tried on numerous false charges. He begins planning a recapture of the city with other White Guelphs, but none of their plans come to fruition due to bickering and treachery, and Dante has the additional responsibility of protecting his daughters and sister.
When Dante fails to appear in court, he’s sentenced to exile. If he’s caught in Firenze, he’ll be burnt at the stake. Shortly on the heels of this nightmarish development, he receives a letter claiming Beatrice and Brunetto are dead. During this darkest night of his soul, Dante begins writing a long epic poem in which he imagines Beatrice reaching out to him from beyond the grave to save him through an otherworldly journey.
But as his oldest daughter Gabriella insists, the only evidence Beatrice and Brunetto are dead is the word of their untrustworthy enemies. A reunion and happily ever could be destined for this lifetime, not Paradise.